Oberle Testimony

In The Beginning Testimonies To God’s Glory By Linda & Kennan Oberle Purpose & Dedication As our testimony together and for memory’s sake, Kennan and I have recorded the events which led us into marriage. We believe this relationship was meticulously planned and brought about by Lord God according to His divine purpose. In this episode of our lives, we see these situations being as obviously providential as those which are chronicled in the Book of Esther. If you are a faithful follower of Christ Jesus, we are certain you experience similar wonders of grace as God’s plan slowly unfolds to reveal your purpose on earth, as well; for this is His manner towards those who walk by faith and not by sight. We dedicate all that we have and are to the Lord, including this book; with special appreciation for every person mentioned herein; who, also unknowingly, participated as an important instrument in His loving plan. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6 Anniversary Edition. This publication is not for sale. ©1996 Printing For Him, P.O. Box 1674, Madisonville, TX 77864 ©2008, ©2010 Printing For Him, P.O. Box 789, Teague, TX 75860 All rights reserved. No part of this booklet may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system without written permission. Chapter 1 the thought of a certain prison ministry manual came to mind. I had received it a couple of weeks earlier, and had simply added it to the growing number of prison ministry manuals, folders, and papers on the floor/corner of my bedroom. I stopped what I was doing, went to The days prior to our meeting... the pile, sat on the floor and sorted through all the stuff to find that certain manual. Found it. While studying the front cover, the thought, “Something about this book will greatly affect my future,” actually went through my mind. Simply having the manual in my hands felt KENNAN: I was having a fairly normal day when I first met Linda. so—providential. I opened it and read... She was, at my first knowledge of her, a name on a computer screen. Wow! I found some great discipleship books advertised in it! The The data said she would be coming into the unit with a friend of mine, closing of the story concerning them had a note to get in touch with Chaplain Hollis. Chaplain Hollis if one wanted to order the books. I called. We chatted When I saw Linda’s name, I knew I was drawn to it. I could not tell on the phone for a while; then he volunteered to bring me the books, why, only that I was. At the time, I figured it meant she needed prayer. I plus a few more which I might also find interesting. He said he was prayed God’s will for her and went back to preparing the documents that rarely in this area, but it “just so happened” that he had to be at the the two of them would need in order to enter the prison. Just a normal Ferguson unit the following Saturday, September 23, to give some day at work. stuff to a certain group of Christian inmates. What a “coincidence”! I didn’t know exactly how to go about it, but LINDA: In an earlier testimony titled ‘By Their Fruits You Shall Know I was supposed to be at the Ferguson unit that Saturday, too. I needed Them,’ I’ve written about a relationship that Lord God used to draw take some pictures of the prison chapel in ruins in order to create a my attention and interest to jail/prison ministry. In the months prior to flyer for the PSCM. my meeting Kennan, I had begun training in this work by attending The Chaplain said that since I had never been inside the prison, he classes through an organization called Prison Fellowship, went to would be happy to escort me. What a deal! The plan was: Chaplain Criminal Justice Ministries seminars and conferences, and sought more Hollis would come to my house to get me since the prison was only information from teachers of various prison ministries in Texas. 15 or so miles from my home; we would take care of his business first During one particular conference, a special task force was formed. I with the inmate group; then, we’d go to the chapel to take pictures for joined this small group of people as we each had a burden to help raise the flyer. money to get the chapel at the Ferguson prison unit in Midway repaired- I was excited, and thought, “Maybe the Chaplain will somehow be -since it was and is in ruins. Our first organizational meeting was held affecting my future!’” the early part of September 1995, during which I was appointed the task of publicity. This ministry eventually became known as the Prodigal Son Chapel Ministries, Inc. (PSCM) I had accumulated a great amount of paperwork attending seminars, conferences and classes. Even to this day, I haven’t gotten around to reading all of the material which has been given to me by all the teachers I’ve had. But one day, as I was cleaning around in my home, — 1 — — 2 — Chapter 2 was a mess I wanted about as much as the bubonic plague, or wanted even less than that. Having seen men go literally mad from isolation from a spouse or girlfriend, I shuddered at the thought that God might “allow” me in their shoes. September 23, 1995 The revelation also angered me in some ways. Before coming to prison and Jesus, I had gotten involved in many sinful relationships with women. I had a notion, based on experience, that most all women KENNAN: Usually I don’t work on Saturdays. My job in the prison as a Chaplaincy Clerk, though, requires me to be available to help out with special religious programs. Today I was working overtime with three programs. I was more than pleased to be able to break at 11:00 a.m. to meet with my friend and seminary sponsor, Chaplain Hollis. The Chaplain and his guest were to meet with a group of us in a certain classroom. The group was a close fellowship; not a stranger in the bunch—except the one Chaplain Hollis brought with him. Linda sat off to one side by herself as Chaplain Hollis talked with me and the other group members about our upcoming studies. Although I heard Chaplain Hollis and responded when needed, my attention was elsewhere. If I had to put my first impression of Linda in a word, it would be: “Wow!” She was very attractive, and seemed rather timid. She looked around the room a couple of times, and said nothing. But then, she didn’t have to; Lord God said enough for everyone. I would say that when I saw Linda, God spoke to me—except I didn’t hear anything. It was more of a revealing. When I set my eyes on her, God showed me: this was my wife... the woman I would spend the remainder of my life with. Color me confused! It’s not hard to imagine the thoughts and prayers of this convict when God showed me what He did, “Lord, I think one of us has blown a fuse; mine seems to be intact. Are You being funny?” I would like to think of myself as being one who is used to hearing from God, but this particular revelation frightened me. It was so specific and definite. Over half a decade in prison teaches a man certain things like: women and time do not mix; and when they do, they equal sleepless nights, headaches, worries, ulcers and home sickness—a real mess. That were shallow, manipulative, and vindictive. Jesus found me in prison, but concerning my opinion of women, somehow I had not yet seen the light. The guiding assumption I was following was that the life of a single guy had some decided advantages—like no pain. I was content to remain that way. I looked on God’s revelation to me as more of a privacy invasion. As I sat there in that classroom with all this running through my head, looking at Linda so as not to draw attention to myself, my supervisor, Chaplain Gerald Saffel, came into the room and told me that he needed me to do a job for him immediately. I got up to leave, thinking God was only kidding. Yes, Lord God has a perfect sense of humor. The job was a paperwork thing that took only a minute, after which I returned to the classroom. Chaplain Hollis finished his purpose in coming, and we all left the classroom. I reported in at the Chaplain’s office to tell Chaplain Saffel I was returning to my housing assignment. Linda and I were briefly introduced, shook hands (thought I was gonna melt). Then I left. Returning to my housing area, my neighbor, David, asked how the meeting with Chaplain Hollis went. I blurted out, “I met my wife this afternoon.” David asked, “What?!” I explained it all to him, hoping he would say I was crazy, but David asked, “So when is the wedding?” Paint me perturbed. God, it seemed, was oblivious to my point of view. With calm assurance, our Lord informed me this woman was my wife. There was no gradual unfolding of His plans nor options given. He impressed upon me that my union with Linda was already a present reality that I could accept or deny, but not change. When faced with such a revelation, what is a guy to do? I did everything I knew how to do—nothing. — 3 — — 4 — LINDA: Saturday finally came, and I soon found myself in the very strange world of prison. We arrived at the class of Christian inmates as they were taking turns praying wholeheartedly outloud to the Lord. After the last prayer had been spoken, Chaplain Hollis began his distribution of learning materials, and called on each—one by one—in order to question them about this and that for some reports he had to fill out. I just sat at the side of the classroom, patiently watching and waiting (during the first minutes, anyway. Have to admit, I fought to stay awake towards the end of the meeting—and lost the battle once). During the first part of the session, my attention kept falling on one particular inmate. Don’t know why. Though attractive, he wasn’t all that attractive, and his manner was not unusual. Nothing about him was different except for the fact that his hair was all messed up—kinda like that crazy scientist in the movie called “Back to the Future.” He looked at me briefly only once, that I had noticed, then turned his attention back to the Chaplain. Then the class business was finished, and it was time to go. The inmates got up, and put their chairs on top of the tables. Then some exited out into the corridor while other inmates lingered in the classroom. I was standing close by the doorway, ready to leave, while Chaplain Hollis handed out business cards to the men who were interested in having one. Suddenly a prisoner darted back into the classroom, and quickly got in line with three other men who were standing with their backs to the wall, hands held out, ready to receive a card from the Chaplain. It was “that guy.” He stood just two feet away and faced me, but still would not look my way. “That guy” seemed so relaxed and at peace. I watched him with curiosity while he held and studied the business card. Soon afterwards, we left the room, and my attention turned from him to observe and participate in the unknown routine. The group of inmates went to the left, down the hall. Chaplain Mark and I walked side by side in the opposite direction. We followed close behind prison Chaplain Saffel, and an inmate walked right beside him. Then I noticed the messy hairdo, That’s the guy! I turned to Chaplain Hollis, and silently mouthed the words, “Who is that?,” while pointing to the inmate’s back as we strolled down the hallway. “Chaplain’s clerk” is all he would say. — 5 — — 6 — The next thing I remember is that we were in Chaplain Saffel’s office. The inmate-clerk and I were introduced. We barely shook hands for the moment was so brief. Still, he kept his eyes lowered, and looked a little embarrassed as he reached out his hand. As our hands touched, I had the strangest sensation... know this sounds quite silly, but it felt as if I were standing under a spiritual waterfall. I was very astonished at how my spirit felt to be bowing to him, specifically, in honor and submission. Yes, those two words really did spring to mind during the surprise. I have never experienced anything like it. After he left, I realized in frustration, I hadn’t caught his name. We all soon left the room. Then Chaplain Saffel passed me off to Warden Terry as Chaplain Hollis continued down the hall with the clerk. Warden Terry accompanied me to the chapel for photos to be taken of the place in ruins. We were soon joined by Chaplains Saffel and Hollis. After my mission was accomplished, we four left that area, and visited together in Warden Terry’s office. During this time, Chaplain Saffel invited me to come and experience an inmate worship service. Of course, I was happy to have his invitation and responded, “Great! How ‘bout next week?” Chaplain Hollis and I were soon escorted back out through the front gates by Chaplain Saffel. As we were about to leave, Chaplain Saffel spoke to Chaplain Hollis something about his clerk, Kennan. He was praising the work that Kennan was doing there. I remained quiet, and was glad to learn the inmate’s name. I heard he was going to preach to the other prisoners the following week. This news was good to me since I’d already made arrangements to be there for worship. I was anxious to hear the clerk preach. I thought God had something quite special to say to me through the message of this man since it was so very obvious that Lord God was pointing him out to me—for some unknown reason. During the drive to my home from prison, Chaplain Hollis made a statement which struck me. He said, “This day has seemed so— providential.” I had to agree while being surprised to hear him say it. Chapter 3 a job. But this definition didn’t seem to fit; didn’t seem right. So I put my foot on the gas, and flew to quickly finish the paper route so that I could get home to my dictionary. I finally got home, made a beeline for the definition and gasped with astonishment at what I read! One September 24-30, 1995 definition for the word “resign” stood out on the page as if it were in 24 point size letters: “TO GIVE ONESELF OVER TO.” KENNAN: Doing nothing, when God reveals His will, is not the I just about fell apart! “What?! Lord God?! You want me to give way He likes for His kids to respond. This became painfully obvious myself to a prisoner?!” There are no words to describe the turmoil in the week after Linda and I first met. Whenever I did not consciously I felt. I was having something like anxiety attacks mingled with a try to avoid hearing God, there He was... and He hadn’t changed His strong sense of excitement at seeing God’s awesome movement in mind. my life. But I could hardly believe the Lord would ask me to do such I believe Jesus is called Lord for a reason. Much like the knights a thing! I decided to call on a volunteer prison chaplain who lived and lords of Feudal times, when the lord spoke, the knight jumped to nearby. I phoned and told his wife I had to speak to her husband about perform his lord’s will without question. I believe duty is the highest something very urgent. I explained that my mind had finally blown, honor I can give to Jesus. I wish I could say my obedience to Jesus is and I wanted his counsel on an important matter. She laughed and always instantaneous. Yet for all my beliefs, convictions, and wishes, asked me to join them for breakfast; I immediately went. when God revealed to me His will, I ran—spiritually—as fast as I As his wife, Mercy, prepared breakfast, I blurted out to the Chaplain could in the opposite direction. what all I had experienced those previous days. I nervously told him precisely what the Lord had said to me. Mercy finished cooking and LINDA: During the week after our first meeting, I could not get rid joined us just in time to hear the last of it. Then I asked, “What do of that name. “Kennan” kept rolling over and over in my mind, and you think the Lord is saying to me, Chaplain?” He leaned back into I couldn’t understand, for the life of me, Why?! At nights I could not his couch with a smile, and said he would have to pray about it. Then, sleep because of the name. I tossed and turned on my bed, beat the still smiling, he stated, “I think you and Kennan would make a great pillows, tossed the sheets all around, and pleaded with the Lord to couple.” I just about had a heart attack. Then Mercy said, “Oh, Linda, take the name from me so that I could get some sleep! I asked Him I feel a lot of peace about this! I believe this is really the Lord’s will!” over and over again, “What is going on?!” I just about had another heart attack. I decided to try relaxing, then Then the next Friday I was throwing my paper route, still having wait and see just how in the world the Lord could possibly make this the name “Kennan” rolling around in my head. I thought I was about happen. to loose my mind at about this point. I was so tired that I began to fall asleep while driving. Then the Lord spoke to me as I began to doze: “This is your resign.” I snapped to total alertness! With wide eyes, I asked outloud to God, “What do You mean by that?!” I had never considered the word “resign” before, and only knew of its meaning in reference to quitting — 7 — — 8 — Chapter 4 Linda looked as surprised, I’m sure, as I did! She repeated herself, and I introduced myself. She told me she was putting together a book, and would like to have my testimony. I agreed to put it in writing, and decided not to mention the revelation just yet. I felt I should wait to October 1, 1995 see if she was in the same boat I was... or had been in. LINDA: Mercy called on Sunday morning, October 1, from her KENNAN: When you put a bunch of violent young men together, its not surprising that they act true to type: like violent young men. I was supposed to preach that morning, but an inmate had been stabbed with a nail earlier in the day. Expecting a retaliation from a rival group, services were canceled as a security risk. I went back to my housing area, let down, but sure God would do something... and He did. At about 3 p.m., Chaplain Saffel called out the dormitories for a church service. Praise God! About 30 of us chose to go. Guess who was in attendance. You guessed it. Linda! I didn’t say anything to her. I sat on the other side of the multipurpose room that we met for worship in. Chaplain Saffel preached, and if I live to be a zillion years of age, I will still remember the sermon. He preached from Psalm 139 about a God who we cannot run from, hide from, or avoid. I’m sure there were other people in that room, but God was preaching through Chaplain Saffel straight to me, and I knew what He wanted. As Chaplain Saffel gave the invitation to surrender to Jesus, I surrendered to His revealed will. All the turmoil of the week, all the pain of fighting with God, all the fear and worry vanished in that instant. I was not sure how, why, or when—but God wanted Linda and I together. The only valid response was, “Yes, my Lord; as You have willed, so I will do.” As the service broke up, I was saying hello/good-bye to a few friends. Linda came up to me and said, sort of matter-of-factly, “I want to know you.” What was I supposed to say? Should I have said, “Yeah, I know--because you’re my wife, by God’s will, and I can see God has great taste!”? Since I was’t sure what to say, I responded home. She said she and her husband had driven out to the prison, and learned there had been a knifing that morning. Some inmates got injured. The scheduled worship services had been canceled for the day because of the security situation. Mercy and the Chaplain had gone back home. She said they just wanted me to know about the problem so that I wouldn’t make the drive to the prison for nothing. After our conversation ended, I tried to call Chaplain Saffel at the prison to let him know that I had heard about the trouble, and would not be there. But he wouldn’t answer the prison receptionist’s page. I was grieved. I paced around back and forth in my house for a full thirty minutes. I just hate to tell someone that I’ll do something, and then not do it with no explanation. I decided to make the drive to the Ferguson unit anyway, with hopes that I could locate and speak to Chaplain Saffel face to face since I couldn’t reach him by phone. Chaplain Saffel learned that I was on the unit before I even had the opportunity to speak with him. He sympathized at my having driven there for nothing. While I waited for him at one of the gates, he was busy calling a small group of about 30 inmates together in order that I might have a small taste of what prison church was like. After a short while, he met me at the gate, and told me about his spur of the moment plan for worship. It was an excellent surprise to me! Moments after we arrived at the designated worship place, I noted Kennan was in the group of worshipers. Chaplain Saffel decided he would preach a sermon himself since the Lord had given him a message to speak. It was so wonderful worshiping with those men! They really know how to praise the Lord! with, “What?” — 9 — — 10— Chapter After the service, we all stood around fellowshiping with each other, talking and having a gay ol’ time. I was chatting with an inmate named 5 Macklin who had sung a special during worship. Incredible voice! Then my eyes fell on an inmate’s back. He was standing a few feet away, speaking to another inmate. The form was familiar, and I knew it to be Kennan. October 2 through December 22, 1995 A few moments later, my feet suddenly had a mind of their own! Almost in mid-conversation with the very gifted singer, my feet began walking towards Kennan. With every step, I was thinking, “Oh no! What am I going to say?!” I was at his side in an instant, it seemed. My mouth opened, and I heard myself say to him, “I want to know you.” He just about jumped out of his skin with surprise, and said, “What?!” So I repeated myself. He smiled and told me his name; then introduced me to Kyle, the inmate with whom he was speaking. Our conversation was very brief—only a couple of minutes. Next thing I knew, we had to leave the area. Chaplain Saffel called out that it was time to go... so I followed after him... and Kennan followed after me. Several inmates, Chaplain Saffel and I gathered at his office for a few minutes. The inmates seemed to be pretending “busyness” while the Chaplain and I chatted. Getting ready to leave, we stood outside his door in the prison corridor. There I gave the Chaplain several of my business cards. I had planned to put a book together of Christian inmate testimonies along with information concerning various prison ministries. I then planned to offer them to free world Christians in exchange for a financial donation to PSCM. My intention was for the Chaplain to give one of my business cards to each Christian inmate who desired to participate in this fund-raising project. Several of the men—one by one—playfully yanked cards from Chaplain Saffel’s hand while Kennan stood across the hall, facing us with his back to the wall ... watching. KENNAN: I sent my testimony to Linda, which she had requested, along with a short letter. I’m not exactly sure how I was able to keep it short; I had so many questions to ask her. Before I call myself an unwilling victim in the plans of some mean and unbending ogre of a God, let me say that such an idea is far from the truth. The conflict I experienced when God revealed His will was caused by my sinful past, and my unbelief that He could possibly be serious about Linda being my wife. God knows all things, and sometimes gives His kids what they need—even if they have different ideas. As Linda and I began writing to each other, two things became obvious to me. First, I realized that God was right in giving Linda to me as a mate. She is a very dynamic person—intelligent, beautiful, and dedicated to God above all else. (Everything I had thought women could not be.) Second, I realized after about a month, I loved Linda more than any woman I had ever met. I wanted God’s will then, every bit as much as He wanted me to. If He would have suddenly changed plans at that point, I would have tried to continue on with His original plan anyway. That is indicative of how well His foreknowledge came to play in my life. A couple of weeks into our writing, Linda confided, “Please don’t laugh, but when I first met you, I thought your were my mate.” How could I laugh? Instead, I began to show her what God had shown me. Linda is loving, compassionate, and caring, but when she decides to try someone by fire, look out! It’s going to get hot! For weeks she picked, poked, and pushed me. It was really cute. She will probably never realize how much I grew to love her in that time. When she was finished with the trials and tests, I asked her to marry me. She said, “Yes.” — 11 — — 12 — Chapter LINDA: A couple of days after the prison worship service, I received a letter dated October 1 in the mail from Kennan. He was the only inmate to responded to my request for testimonies. (By this time, I had already 6 begun brainwashing myself; I preferred to believe that everything I had thought and experienced in days past, concerning God’s will for Kennan and I, was simply my own imagination running wild.) Kennan noted in December 23, 1995 the accompanying letter that he wanted to know me, too. So we began corresponding. Before long, I discovered the Lord had impressed him with the same revelation concerning me: that the Lord had plans for us—together. I immediately found Kennan to be a very intelligent, tender hearted man who is much like me in many ways. I can relate to him so much better than any other man, and enjoy him like no other. I love how we have often sent answers to each other as our letters cross in the mail with the question. Both pointing to the same passage of Scripture to speak of something out of the “clear blue,” writing and sending it off to the other on the same day was real inspirational, too. But I still wrestled against the Lord in my heart. I did not want a relationship with an inmate. I wanted a father at home for my kids—now. I didn’t want us to have to wait years for Kennan to come home. Then the day came when I was able to figure out his approximate age. “Oh, no, the man is younger,” went through my mind, and it bothered me a lot. All the men I’ve been involved with in the past have been older; most of the time, they’ve even been several years older than me. “I don’t want a younger man,” I thought while grieving. So I rebelled; I told God, “No way! You have got to be kidding!” (while knowing, of course, that God doesn’t kid; so I blamed my imagination again.) I became like the prophet Jonah. I held Kennan’s feet to the fire for several weeks, and threw lots of sharp emotional darts at him—hoping to sting him to death or run him off. I was quite a jerk. But Kennan was always wearing the full armor of God. He would not give up, and never stopped being loving, patient and forgiving. He was determined to do what he knew was the Lord’s will. His mind was fixed to do it or die trying. I finally threw my hands in the air, and gave up the fight. After giving myself over to Kennan by obedience to the Lord, I was free to know God’s peace which surpasses all understanding—with great joy! KENNAN: Linda, Houston, the Chaplain and his wife Mercy were to meet at Elwood Baptist Church at 3 p.m. for our wedding. Being an observer to your own wedding is really awkward! I spent the night and most of the day milling over every day of the past three months. It was all so overwhelmingly more than either Linda or I could, of ourselves, bring about. There was no doubt; I knew I was, at that moment in time, in the center of God’s will. As three o’clock neared, one thing was very clear to me: There was a commitment to be made on this day, whether in that church with Linda, or alone with God who sees and knows everything. God had led us by the hand, prepared us, opened our eyes to His will, opened every door that had to be open—all to bring us to this day. We were now at the point of commitment to each other that would bring into reality, for us and others, that which was a present reality to our mighty God since the foundation of the world. I was ready for just such a commitment. At three o’clock, Linda and I were married. I have no regrets in giving myself to God through Linda. I’m honored to call her my wife, and praise Him daily for her. I’m certain that people will look at the events which led Linda and I to marry, and some will say that none of it was God’s doing. They are entitled to their own ideas and opinions. However, some will look at us and see a joy and happiness in the face of many adverse circumstances, and realize that the only explanation for it is—God’s work. Let me offer a word of encouragement and advice to anyone who may be struggling with doing God’s will. The Lord never calls us to things we cannot do, and He never fails to bless us when we dare to reach outside of ourselves, in faith, to take hold of His plans and purposes. Let Jesus be Lord of your life. — 13 — — 14 — LINDA: Brother Hendrick, my pastor, met the Chaplain, Mercy, me and my son, Houston, at Elwood Baptist Church in Midway. At 3 p.m., we entered the sanctuary where Pastor Hendrick prayed God’s blessing on this marriage. Next, he read several passages of Scripture which concerns the unity of a man and his wife, and their roles in the marriage partnership. Then he lead us in the marriage vows. Since Kennan was unable to attend and physically participate, the Chaplain stood in Kennan’s place, and spoke the vows for him. After the ceremony, Mercy and her husband met Houston and I at Pizza Hut in Madisonville where we enjoyed a coke and time together. The Messingers presented us with a couple of precious gifts there in the restaurant. Then Houston and I came home, where I lazed around, and gloated in my new name for the remainder of that Saturday. Almost one full year has passed since our wedding day. Looking back on this past year, I have to admit (while putting it lightly), the TDCJ situation that we are in has been very far from comfortable. “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Every visitation opportunity and our daily written correspondence serves to forge in us a bond that grows amazingly stronger each day. I have hope, and it is the desire of my heart that the Lord will deliver Kennan—family leader, husband and father—safely to us at an earlier time than we’ve been supposing. Therefore, since my hope and desire could possibly be the Lord’s also, I will soon be giving our Lord opportunities to work any miracles that He might want to perform in order to set Kennan outside those prison walls. But as great as our hopes and desires are in this matter, Kennan and I sincerely pray, O my Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from us; nevertheless, not as we will, but as You will. Please, friend—each time the names Kennan and Linda Oberle come to mind, pray that God’s desire will be done for, in, and through us today and always. Still, no matter what... I will always feel honored to say: “I am Mrs. Linda Oberle [O’-ber-lee], the happiest and most blessed woman on earth!” After all, Kennan is my husband... and Jesus is my Lord! Linda & Kennan Oberle November 15, 2008 ( 13+ years anniversary after our first meeting ) — 15 — — 16 — My name is Kennan Oberle, and I entered prison in May 1990 on a forty-year sentence for Attempted Capital Murder. I’ve been a Christian for almost as long as I’ve been incarcerated. Before coming to know and rely on Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior, my life was earmarked by a long cycle of pain and wasted opportunities. I was born and reared in Dallas, Texas. My parents were both alcoholics. Though I know they loved me and the other four children in our family, their love was often subjugated by the demands of their addiction. As a child, I did not understand this. I was made to feel that I was loved only when I performed above everyone’s expectations, and when that did not happen, I was not noticed nor cared about. It was like having to take the second chair to a bottle. I became very competitive. Driven by a longing to be loved, I pushed Wasted Opportunities A Testimony by Kennan Oberle myself to succeed in all that I did. Second place was never good enough for me because I reasoned that only those who come in first really “won.” I wanted to win — to be loved. As a result of my driven passion to succeed, I did very well in school. I impressed my teachers and often found myself at home in school. It was very challenging and pleasing to me. When I was in junior high school, my father died. The addiction which had ruled him for so long demanded final obedience; he drank himself to death. In my mind, I blamed myself. I told myself that if I had been a better, more loving son—somehow better met my father’s expectations—he would not have drunk so much. On another level, because my father was the center of my world, I was angry that he had been so nonsensical and had succumbed to death so passively, as if I didn’t need him, as if he didn’t care. To avoid my pain and assure myself that mother would not see the pain I felt, I threw myself into studies as never before. I was accepted into one of the most prestigious magnet schools in the State to study law. For two years I studied criminal law, served on mock trial teams, executive planning committees, headed debate teams, and even had pieces of legislation that I authored pass into law through Youth In Government programs. In spite of these accomplishments, though, I felt no happiness nor peace. I could not hold down several jobs. I lived with a even please myself. I felt unloved woman who was someone else’s wife, and alone—imprisoned in a person and sired a child by her. What I felt for that I had never intended to become, her was not love—by God’s definition. and a slave to desires that I did not We had many problems together and understand. no solutions were seen. A couple of years into the magnet I saw my mother off and on— program, I got tired of my life. My usually only when her boyfriend home life began to deteriorate as my would beat her up. Most times I would mother entered into several abusive avoid having anything to do with relationships. I started using drugs to them, except when mom needed help escape what I felt inside—to somehow or a place to stay. After one particular fill my life up, if only with escapists instance of reversals and a job loss, delusions. The escape was very I sat drunk and stoned at a friend’s welcome in some ways; it enabled apartment. I learned my mother me with numbness. Soon I started had been beat up again. My friend drinking as well as using drugs. I can made the offhanded comment about remember looking in the mirror at wondering how that guy would feel if this point of my life and feeling only it were his mother. disdain for what I was becoming: my It was not long before my friend’s father’s son in every way. wondering became a reality. In my One drug led to another; one drunken and drug controlled mind, my relationship led to another; one friend’s comment made sense—that reversal led to another; one choice being indicative of how far from led to another, and I found myself soon rational thought I had ventured. I spending several hundreds of dollars drove to the boyfriend’s mother’s per week on LSD. I used several fronts house, and went into her home. After and crimes to obtain this money and a few moments, I cut her with a knife hide my habit from my family and numerous times and left. (A neighbor friends. Most often, I would rob drug found her wandering in the yard soon dealers of their money and drugs. I afterward and took her to a hospital graduated from a public school in where she received medical treatment Duncanville, Texas with a poor grade 4 hours later.) Official reports of the average and a drug habit that would incident record that I stabbed her for rule my life for a couple more years. money, although no money in the After graduating from high school, house was taken. I then stole her car I tried without much real success to as a cover to make the crime seem — 17 — like a burglary and became a fugitive. I was apprehended without incident 36 hours later. My life was out of control, and in some ways, I hoped jail would save me from myself. I did not know who I had become; I was a stranger even to myself. I admitted to attempting to kill the woman and to stealing her car. I also agreed not to defend myself against the charges, so did not have a jury trial. In the jail, I was housed with a man named Jack who had just finished serving time in another state. Jack had money and did not play cards very well, so I figured we would get along just fine. Jack was a Christian. He shared his faith with me a couple of times. Finally, I got tired of hearing him “preach” to me and told him if he did it again, I would kill him. Jack knew I would, and that it would not have bothered me. What Jack had already said, though, effected my thinking. In the midst of drug withdrawals and the reality of the situations that daily became more clear, I knew my life was out of control. I was a sinner, just as Jack had said. In the months that followed, I became acutely aware of the depths of my own sin. I saw very clearly the opportunities God had provided in my life, but that I had wasted... opportunities to tell my father that I loved him and wished he would quit life of purpose—and what I wanted most of all: love. I asked Him to save me from my sins, my past, myself, and be my Lord. No lightening flashed. The ground did not shake. I had acquired no halo. I still looked much the same as when I first knelt in prayer. But at the most fundamental part of me, a change was made. I got up off my knees, and the first step I took headed in a new direction. Time and growth have brought to the foreground the reality and depth of the change Jesus worked in my heart that day. I thank God that He did not allow the woman I hurt to die from my horrific offense. Although I am still in prison for the crime I committed and admitted to, I am more free than I have ever been. Each day I see a myriad of opportunities that my heavenly Father has given me to bring my life purpose and fulfillment in His plans. Being free to seize and accept these opportunities, I have freedom. Slowly, in His timing, Jesus is bringing healing to my past. His Word is teaching me how to live and change to please Him. The single purpose of my life is to please Him now as He provides me opportunity. Because He died for me, I live for Him with all that I have. I am not certain what the future holds; that is a picture too large for my eyes. The Lord opened the way for me drinking; opportunities to tell my to go to seminary from within prison; mother that alcohol was ruining her therefore, I seized the opportunity and and I wanted to help her get help; earned a Pastoral Ministries degree opportunities to excel in school and through an extension program from one live up to my potential; opportunities of the six seminaries of the Southern to be a father to the daughter I had Baptist Convention. In addition, the sired; opportunities to bring something Lord has led me to preach the Word more than pain and hurt to my life to inmates on a couple of prison units, and the lives of others. I knew I was counsel, and conduct Bible studies. undone, locked hopelessly within Lord God has also blessed my life myself... alone. I also knew I wanted with a beautiful Christian wife whom out. I loathed myself. I dearly and deeply love. One night, after remembering What I do know for certain is something Jack had said about Jesus, I that God holds out to each of us— decided to open up and ask questions. daily—the opportunities to accept Not really knowing if my father’s His will or continue in our own. For intentions to die were purposeful years I wasted those opportunities by or not, I preferred to believe the denying His will to my hurt and the worst—suicide—and so asked, “You hurt of others. said Jesus died for me. My father killed Today, please reflect on your life himself for or because of me. What is and ask yourself one question: “Whose so different about Jesus?” Jack told will am I striving to follow in all that me all he could about Jesus and read I do in the course of a day?” If you to me that night from the Gospels cannot answer wholeheartedly, “God’s about Him. will,” then I pray you will learn from What I heard that night shocked my example before you add your own me. Jesus, I felt, knew me and really list of pain and wasted opportunities cared for me. I realized the main to my list. thing I had been neglecting was the The easiest test ever given to man opportunity to know God, the love He is this: “I have set before you this day has towards me, and to have my life life and death, blessing and cursing...” ordered in His love, providence and Not many choices and opportunities wisdom. I wanted this life He claimed there, but so often we choose the to be the Way to. I confessed my sins, wrong ones. God, foreseeing that fact, apologizing to Jesus for killing Him in helped us out, “therefore choose life,” and with each sin that came to mind. He says (Deut. 30:19). I asked Him to give me a new life—a I pray you will choose life today. — 18 — During childhood, my family went to church every time the doors were open. As often as that was, I’m some- what surprised to remember only one message delivered by a pastor from those days. Maybe I was too busy to pay attention to the sermons; I loved drawing pictures on the visitation cards and tithe envelopes which were kept neatly stashed in convenient reach at each pew. The preacher thundered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” (Matt. 22:37) He went on to say that we are to love God more than anyone or anything. What an astonishing blow this commandment was to me! In total surprise, I looked over at my par- ents—probably with eyes the size of saucers. They intently gazed at the speaker, and didn’t seem at all sur- prised to hear what the preacher had just said. I don’t think I heard any Coming To Understand A Testimony by Linda Oberle more of that particular sermon due to my obsession to solve this problem: How can I love God more than mam- ma and daddy? And how can I love God that much when I can’t even see Him? I need to figure this out so that I can do what God wants me to do! I pondered and deliberated, but I could not understand. A few years later, I decided to quit the ‘religious scene,’ and began walking through life giving very little thought to God. ‘Rebel’ should have been my middle name, for if there was a wrong thing to do, that was the very thing I wanted and performed. Nevertheless, every once in a while I’d remember that one particular ser- mon I’d heard in my childhood and would give it a little thought. But I was every bit as baffled by the mys- terious meaning of the ‘great com- mandment’ in my adulthood as I was in my childhood. I simply could not understand. Toward the end of my long period of unconcern for God and rebel- lion, this ‘black sheep’ began expe- riencing unnatural occurrences on a fairly regular basis. They were star- tling, mind-boggling, and mysterious things— things which caused me to give more thought to God. One December day in 1989, I bought a Bible; took it home; sat cross-legged in the middle of my bed; held His Book up, and spoke to Him as if He was merely a human stand- ing and listening at the foot of my bed. I said something like this: ond Book, Exodus, I couldn’t take it “I know You wanted me to get this any longer! The pain and sorrow I Book and learn from it. I haven’t been felt because of what God says about to a church more than half a dozen my sins and how my sins effect Him, times in 20 or so years. The denomi- was too overwhelming! I just had to nations bicker back and forth saying get some good news, so turned to the their way is the right way. How can New Testament gospels... and fell in I choose which one to listen to? I re- love. fuse to choose between them! I want I have always known the story of YOU to teach me. I KNOW that You Jesus, God’s Son, and believed it with teach because You have taught me my head; therefore, I thought I was a things in other areas of my life that I Christian—even when I was living in could not have known otherwise; I’m rebellion. But I was wrong. As I fell not that smart. Now—I’m gonna start in love with Jesus by reading God’s at the beginning of this Book. I refuse Word, I came to realize that knowing to read any of the study notes on the about Him with my head and know- pages because there is no guarantee ing Him personally in my heart/ that You told these people to write mind/soul are two completely differ- these notes. And I won’t listen to any ent things! True salvation in Christ TV or radio preachers because they is special, for it actually involves might not really understand. And I having real love for Him—a love will not go to church—until or un- which is imparted miraculously and less You let me know that You want powerfully through the Holy Spirit. me to go.” After so many years of wondering, I Then I began reading and was to- finally came to understand. Knowing tally captivated! I was drawn to the The Lord is the greatest blessing of pages like steel is drawn to a magnet, my life! and hung on His every word. Each Not being a poet, I can’t describe chapter brought such painful under- my affection for God. But I know standing, which pierced deeper and how king David must have felt when deeper into my heart. By midway he wrote, “To You, O Lord, I lift up into Genesis, I was crying my eyes my soul. O my God, I trust in You.” I out with compassion for God; I un- think these words evolved from feel- derstood the Creator of everything ings of great hope and adoration as good and true simply wants to be a fervent passion for the Lord over- loved by obedience. “What awful, whelmed him. rebellious, selfish creatures we are!” Do you understand his kind of love I cried. for the Lord of hosts? If not, try ear- By the time I got through the sec- nestly seeking to really know Him. — 19 —